Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale

This book is a follow-up to Rapunzel's Revenge, following the story of Rapunzel's partner in saving things- Jack.

Jack was born in the town/city of Shyport, the son of two native Americans. From birth, he was a sly and scheming type of guy, but his schemes didn't always turn out well. After his father died, his mother ran a bakery, where she came to the attention of a nasty Giant named Blunderboar.

Blunderboar was rich, powerful and well-connected, and Jack wanted to try and rip him off, especially when Blunderboar caused damage to his mother's bakery. But Blunderboar was more well protected than Jack thought, and even teaming up with his usual partner, a pixie named Prudence, he was unable to pierce Blunderboar's defenses. So he sold his father's jacket, and bought some magic seeds that were supposed to grow immediately. In reality, it took overnight, but using the seeds, he made his way into Blunderboar's floating house and stole the most valuable thing he owned- a goose who laid golden eggs.

The damage that Jack caused from chopping down the beanstalk to escape killed one of Blunderboar's henchgiants and destroyed the tenement in which he and his mother lived. Jack was forced to escape Shytown and leave his mother behind.

Out in the west, Jack met Rapunzel, and the two of them did many good deeds, finally killing her stepmother and becoming heroes. And now, Jack has decided to bring her home to his mother, and introduce the two.

But Shytown isn't the town he left. Blunderboar seems to be in charge, and the city is at war with a bunch of giant ants. Indeed, the train they came into town on was attacked by the ants, and only through the actions of Jack and Rapunzel did they save the train from being destroyed, and the lives of the people on it. However, the crates that were in the train's cargo compartment have disappeared, and the giants who claim to have saved the train from the ants call the people on board "Fools", which Rapunzel overhears.

When they get to the city, they see Jack's mother being taken away by two Giants, and Rapunzel distracts the two long enough for Jack and his mother to talk. But his mother wants nothing to do with Jack, or him getting revenge on Blunderboar. She tells him to leave the city and leave her alone. By that time, the Giants have noticed that she isn't with them and return for her, but Jack is hiding and they don't see him.

Jack finds out from reading the notices on the notice-poles that everything Blunderboar has said is true, and that there is a price on his head for Giant-killing. He and Rapunzel try to take shelter for the night with his aunt, but aside from filling their ears with tales of how the giant ants capture and eat people, she won't take them in because she is afraid of what his being found in her home could mean to her. She throws him and Rapunzel out on the street.

Taking shelter with Jack's old partner in crime, Prudence the Pixie, they sleep in her house at night and find that only one man has been standing up to Blunderboar, a newspaperman named Freddie Sparksmith. Going to find him, they find his publishing company under attack by the ants- and by Blunderboar's Giants. Only the intervention of Jack and Rapunzel saves him, and he's mighty taken with Rapunzel's beauty and fiestiness- something that Jack finds that makes him angry. He likes Rapunzel, too, but every time he tries to talk to her, he finds himself tripping over his own tongue.

In fact, when he tries to compliment her, he ends up pushing her away. But will he, Rapunzel and Freddie be able to take on Blunderboar and win? Or will Jack have to expose his shameful criminal past to the only woman he loves, Rapunzel? And who will win Rapunzel's affections- Freddie or Jack?

I loved this follow up to "Rapunzel's Revenge", where we finally get to see how Jack ended up with the golden egg-laying goose in the Wild West, and now it's up to him and Punzie to bring down the villain that Jack left behind in his calamitous escape.

This Jack is Native American rather than vaguely European, and the legend of Jack is changed- both how he acquires the seeds, and the reason why- and yet these changes make the story better, richer, and deeper.

It was also nice to see Jack get some competition for "Punzie"'s hand, because Jack isn't willing to confront his feelings about her without someone else giving him competition in that area. And Jack's expression when Freddie is being nice to Rapunzel is just priceless. He looks like he swallowed a big, juicy lemon whole.

I really enjoyed this book, and the same readers who enjoyed "Rapunzel's Revenge" will enjoy reading Jack's tale of origins, wickedness, and redemption. Jack thinks of himself as a failed bad guy, but the reality, as Rapunzel points out to him, is that he isn't a "bad man" at all. He's just stepped off the path of righteousness, and once he gets back on it, he'll be fine. It's a path we all want to take with Jack, and now we can. Highly recommended.

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